Day 5

Frustration is today’s word. Frustration leading to reflection, and hopefully later action.

Today we had rain, and lots of it. Though I have to admit it was welcome relief from the 30 degree temperatures. Although, due to the rather basic road surfaces in Chișinău it also created an awful lot of mud.

My day on placement definitely had positives; interactions with the clients/service-users/young adults are getting easier and more useful, I had good opportunities to observe their cognitive and processing skills and my supervisor, another staff member and I planned out the next four weeks and I’m being given plenty of opportunity to run sessions (which, in a placement that has a warning of ‘this placement will be mostly observational unless you are able to prove your abilities and experience’, is a very nice opportunity to have).

But… The downsides. I’ve been very aware of the low expectations of the young adults, but I had hoped there would be opportunities to challenge this. My first came today. My supervisor and I were discussing differences between UK and Moldovan services of this type. I explained that an occupational therapist involved in this type of work would be concerned with promoting skills in activities of daily living, finding meaningful occupations on an individual basis as well as working at a pace suited to the individual (where possible, allowing for group work that was more generic). My supervisor did not feel that our clients were capable of this type of work. I felt sad, and frustrated. I know that many of the clients are capable of more. My observations tell me that they have highly developed skills in certain areas (several are glued to their mobile phones just like your ‘average’ teenager) and I believe many are capable of much more than they’ve had the opportunity to do.

I totally understand where this attitude has come from though. There is no state support for people with learning disabilities to live with the level of independence that is right for them. There is also no education or example of people with learning disabilities living full and meaningful lives. It’s the stuff I’ve heard challenged in the UK, and I know some of the same problems exist.

Anyway, I hope I can continue to share with them the type of approach an occupational therapist in the UK might take. Perhaps some parts of it would work within the culture and make a difference.

The remainder of my frustration was saved for the local bank and the challenge of changing travellers’ cheques. Thirty minutes, and a small angry mob of waiting customers behind me and I finally had my Euros, minus the ten Euro fee, that I was able to exchange at a separate currency exchange nearby… Sterling, to travellers’ cheque, to Euro, to Lei. All losing value at each change. Next time I’m just bringing cash!

To end on a positive… Still enjoying the food. Yummy soups (mushroom has been my favourite so far), endless watermelon and peaches, and the nicest pistachio ice cream I’ve ever eaten (ok, as I’d never tried pistachio before that isn’t much of a claim, but it’s amazing!)


Day 4

…and really starting to feel settled in Chisinau.

Today started with my usual bus trip to placement. Although the second bus I catch seems to have a mind of its own and it stopped two stops earlier than I needed, much to the bemusement of me and the locals on the bus. I then had a 20 minute walk in 28 degree heat to placement, not so much fun. I was greated at placement by the clients (I think I’ll start referring to them as ‘young adults’) like a celebrity, with a crowd wanting to offers me good morning handshakes and greetings of “Salut!”. Always good for the ego.

We soon packed up and got into the centre’s minibus for a trip to the park. Our young adults made a beeline for the outdoor gym equipment (most parks in Chișinău have basic outdoor gym equipment located next to the children’s play parks – great idea!) and it was fascinating to watch them. Some were reluctant to exercise, some seemed to love it and some seemed very keen to perform, if they noticed you watching them. The occupational therapy geek in me loved it as an opportunity to observe their individual movement patterns and level of volition for this type of occupation. After some time we moved to a shady part of the park and the group self-divided into groups to play tennis, football, badminton, basketball and group ball-passing games. My status as ‘the new person’ meant I was in high demand for playing every game but it was great to see the levels of cooperation and inclusion throughout the group, and the way the activity allowed the young adults to select activities they most enjoyed. The atmosphere was relaxed and the group were very content to sit and chat as, one by one, they ran out of energy for active games. One sad part I was acutely aware of was the reactions of the Chisinau residents to our group… We cleared the fitness park with our arrival and every person we met regarded the young adults with a look of fear. The stigma regarding learning disabilities here is apparent. And I suspect this is, in part, why the opportunities for our group to have independence are so limited. I was discussing this client group with my host and explaining how about some of the group, if they lived in the UK, functioned well enough to have paid employment. The idea totally shocked her.

We were picked up by our minibus just before lunch, and drove back to the centre via the canteen that provides lunches for the young adults. Well, that was fascinating! It was a Soviet style kitchen of a restaurant that I doubt has changed much since it was under Soviet State control. It’s hard to put into words but felt like stepping back about 40 years.

Anyway, back to the centre for lunch and I had an early finish as I had a Romanian language lesson. I’m not sure how much I learned, but hoping the opportunity to practice at the centre will help consolidate it more than when I learned other foreign languages at school.

I had another new experience today, the ‘Maxi Taxi’. These are minibuses that run on the main trolleybus routes, they cost approximately 15p per trip, compared to the 10p for the bus and are quite an experience. Each passenger boards and finds a seat (if there are any left), they then pass their fare towards the driver with other passengers also paying sorting out the change between them, before the money reaches the driver. Great system!

I also visited the local swimming pool to get times and costs, so hopefully I’ll brave that one soon. I travelled back to my accommodation on my own and even brave the local kiosk to purchase a drink with my new, extremely basic, Romanian skills (I noticed the price of cigarettes here, they ranged from 25p to £1.50 per pack – it’s funny, despite them being so cheap I’ve noticed only the same number of smokers as in the UK, though my host assures me lots of people do smoke).

Bit by bit it’s coming together, I’m really having a good time now!

Day 3

I can’t believe it’s only day 3, I feel like I’ve been here for weeks!

This morning I was met by one of the team from the organisers of my voluntary work and escorted to my placement using the, somewhat shaky, trolleybuses. Fortunately it wasn’t as hot as it has been and the buses weren’t too crowded (some of them make a rush hour London Tube carriage look spacious). The journey took an hour and fifteen minutes to travel just a few miles, and I began to realise why volunteers are not expected to start work at the opening time of the centre. I also found it rather odd being ‘looked after’ by my guide. I mean, I am very grateful that they make sure you are comfortable in a new city, but I gained the perspective of what it might have been like for a client on my last placement, with whom we worked on independent bus use.

Anyway, I made it to my placement, which is a day centre for teenagers with learning disabilities. Well, bar the clients in their forties. The centre is basic but clean and tidy, it shares grounds with an orphanage and there are lots of smaller children running around. ‘My’ clients were doing their weekly chores of sweeping the paths and yard when I arrived, though most were very keen to meet the new volunteer. Once the jobs were done the whole group assembled and we had a group meeting where I introduced myself and told them about my life in the UK and they introduced themselves and told me what they liked to do. They then asked me lots of questions about the UK; our transport, weather, sports and chocolate. This was a pretty long session, especially as everything I said had to be translated into Russian and Romanian.

Afterwards it was lunchtime, and I had the privilege of being included in one of the staff member’s birthday celebrations. Birthdays are a very special event here and an important time for people to reflect on their lives and families. There was lots of food and even small amounts of special home-produced Moldovan wine.

After lunch the activities began. On first impression I’d say that most activities are either education or sport based. I was able to interact reasonably well with the clients and hope that if I can learn a few key Russian and Romanian phrases I’ll really be able to get somewhere.

First impressions about learning disability services in Moldova…

Well, while the service does aim to increase independent living skills the belief that any of the clients could ever have more independence than attending a day centre and living at home seems to be absent. But as the country has no means to support a person with a learning disability having more autonomy, it’s understandable that this attitude prevails. In fact, I suspect this is one of the more forward-thinking institutions (and I use the word deliberately) in the region.

Occupational therapy is definitely an emerging field in this centre. There is plenty of use of activity to provide structure and some meaning, but I think there is a lot of scope for application of occupational therapy theory to improve the skills and quality of life of the clients.

It will be interesting to see how my first impressions change during the placement. I’ll report back on any developments!

Day 2

Day 2

…and my last settling in day before placement begins tomorrow.

I’m loving the food, it really suits my tastes. Breakfast was corn on the cob, peaches and watermelon. At lunch my host and I were taken out by the director of the volunteering scheme here. Despite the salsa, bachata and merengue music being played, we had traditional Moldovan cuisine. I can’t remember the names of what I ate, but it was all very tasty, all 4 courses. It is clear that the Moldovans like to demonstrate their considerable hospitality by way of ensuring you have plenty to eat!

My host and I also explored more of the centre of Chișinău this morning, including visiting the lake, war memorial park, the mansions of Moldova (the few rich citizens are clearly very rich) and locating the new shopping complex as it will be a regular meeting point with other volunteers. It mildly amused me that they had named it ‘Mall-Dova’. Well, seems sensible really. We also explored the vast fruit, vegetable and meat markets, that even on a Sunday were bustling.

That’s all for today, tomorrow I’ll report on my first glimpses of occupational therapy in Moldova.


Day 1

This is going to be pretty brief as I’m typing on my old iPhone, which is the only device I can seem to get playing with the 3G here. But apparently Moldova has free wifi in all the city’s parks so I shall take my tablet there soon (you can tell they are used to drier weather…).

I arrived in Moldova late last night (1 a.m. local time) and was taken by taxi to my host’s apartment. Even at that time of night, in a more residential district of Chișinău , the area was still most definitely awake. My accommodation is in a traditional Moldovan tower block. They look incredibly run down but are very comfortable inside. My room is actually my host’s living room, which she has generously given up for my month long stay.

This morning, after a delicious breakfast of porridge, breads and peaches I began my induction to Chișinău . I was guided round the trolley bus system (which costs about £9 for a month’s unlimited travel) and journeyed into the city centre. I was shown all the important landmarks and was struck by both the vibrancy of the city, and the sheer number of mobile phone shops. There are only three carriers here and they seem to have an outlet every 3rd or 4th shop. I then completed the paperwork related to my placement and travelled back to my host’s apartment. Where I fought off the urge to sleep! Exhausted doesn’t come close, the journey yesterday was quite hot and stressful. So lots of rest required this evening ready for another day of exploring tomorrow, before my placement begins on Monday.

It’s Moldova Time.

air-travel-13524785051OV So if everything goes to plan, this time tomorrow I’ll be in Moldova! The past few weeks have involved lots of preparations and I’m now a healthy mixture of excited and nervous. This blog has been totally neglected, but I’m really hoping for regular opportunities to post and reflect on all I’m experiencing in Moldova. Hopefully I’ll have regular updates about my occupational therapy placement working with teenagers with learning disabilities, Moldovan family life and all the touristy things I’ll be up to.


Until next time….